Chest pain according to Chinese Medicine

Chest pain can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like chest pain here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here chest pain is often associated with palpitations, purple lips and purple nails in the pattern “Heart Blood Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause chest pain.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of chest pain we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat chest pain.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause chest pain

In Chinese Medicine chest pain is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Heart is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Heart in Chinese Medicine

Heart Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Knotted (Jie)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple

This is a severe pattern deriving from other Heart patterns such as Heart Yang or Blood Deficiency, or Heart Qi Stagnation. Prolonged emotional stress such as grief, worry, resentment, anxiety or anger can seriously harm the Heart's functions of controlling Blood and Blood vessels as well as housing the spiritual Mind.

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Heart Blood Stagnation include palpitations, purple lips and purple nails.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Heart Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Postpartum Depression.

Heart Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates the Blood".

Read more about Heart Blood Stagnation here

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Red points on the sides

This pattern develops from Liver Qi Stagnation, which creates excessive amount of Heat and then turn into Liver Fire. The Heat is more intense here.

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire include abdominal pain, dizziness and irregular menstruation.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is often treated with Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Mudan Peony Bark - Mu Dan Pi - as a key herb). Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that clear liver-heat", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi".

Read more about Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire here

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Yao San, a formula used for Qi and Blood Stagnation

Qi and Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red, Red sides

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Qi and Blood Stagnation include abdominal pain, dizziness and irregular menstruation.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi and Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Absence Of Menstruation or Menopausal Syndrome.

Qi and Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Qi and Blood Stagnation here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen include dizziness, irregular menstruation and dry mouth.

Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen here

The Bladder is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Bladder in Chinese Medicine

Heat in Gall Bladder

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick coating, Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms associated with Heat in Gall Bladder include nausea, bitter taste in the mouth and stifling sensation in the chest.

Heat in Gall Bladder is often treated with Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Sweet Wormwood Herbs - Qing Hao - as a key herb). Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize lesser yang-warp disorders", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Heat and relieves acute conditions of the Gallbladder".

Read more about Heat in Gall Bladder here

Five herbal formulas that might help with chest pain

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates Blood. Eliminates Blood Stagnation below the diaphragm. Stops pain. Promotes Qi movement.

Why might Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi and Blood Stagnation' of which chest pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi and Blood Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Absence Of Menstruation.

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang here

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen' of which chest pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Blood Deficiency With Disharmony Of Liver And Spleen include dizziness, irregular menstruation and dry mouth.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Why might Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heart Blood Stagnation' of which chest pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heart Blood Stagnation include palpitations, purple lips and purple nails.

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Source date: 2002 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi.

Why might Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire' of which chest pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire can contribute to many health issues, including Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Read more about Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San here

Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang

Source date: Qing Dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat and relieves acute conditions of the Gallbladder. Relieves acute Damp-Heat syndromes. Resolves Phlegm. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang help with chest pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heat in Gall Bladder' of which chest pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heat In Gall Bladder include nausea, bitter taste in the mouth and stifling sensation in the chest.

Read more about Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat chest pain

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang for instance).

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here

Why might Corydalis Tuber (Yan Hu Suo) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang for instance).

Corydalis Tubers is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Liver and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Moves the Blood, breaks Blood Stagnation and reduces associated pain. Regulates Stagnant Qi and reduces associated pain.

Read more about Corydalis Tubers here

Why might Red Peony Root (Chi Shao) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang for instance).

Red Peony Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Liver.

Its main actions are: Moves Blood, relieves pain and reduces swelling. Cools the Blood and the Liver.

Read more about Red Peony Roots here

Why might Bupleurum Root (Chai Hu) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Jia Wei Xiao Yao San for instance).

Bupleurum Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Harmonizes exterior and interior. Smoothes the Liver and upraises the Yang.

Read more about Bupleurum Roots here

Why might Bitter Orange (Zhi Ke) help with chest pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat chest pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat chest pain as a symptom (such as Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang for instance).

Bitter Oranges is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter, Pungent and Sour. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: To regulate the flow of Qi, remove its stagnation, and alleviate distension.

Read more about Bitter Oranges here